6 things to know about MRIs and CT scans

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You may have heard people speak about going for a Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan (MRI) or CT scan, but not know much about these procedures. What are they? When are they needed? How do they work?

Fedhealth Medical Scheme shares six things you need to know about them, plus information on radiology in general.

What is specialised radiology?

MRIs and CT scans fall under a group of procedures known as specialised radiology. Radiology is an important part of medical care because it allows people to be diagnosed and treated for diseases and injuries, without having to undergo surgery to see what’s wrong. In essence, it allows doctors to “see inside” the body, without opening it up. Radiologists are specialised medical doctors who’ve been trained to diagnose and treat ailments by using these various medical imaging techniques.

There are different kinds

Ever been for an X-ray? That’s probably the most commonly known type of radiology, used to diagnose broken bones or joint problems. Other well-known procedures include mammograms, which use medical imagery to examine breast tissue; and ultrasounds, where high-frequency sound waves create images of blood vessels, tissues and organs. The latter are commonly used on pregnant women to see the development of their foetus.


The benefits
There are many benefits to radiology, including:

  • Earlier detection of diseases, because you can screen someone more easily and then provide treatment. An example of this would be a mammogram to detect breast cancer.
  • It reduces the need for exploratory surgery, which can bring along with it higher risks.
  • Because there are shorter recovery times, radiology also decreases the length of hospital stays.
  • It helps doctors to make better decisions about diagnosis and treatment.

CT scans
CT scans (computed tomography scans) have been so useful as a medical diagnostic tool that the inventors were actually awarded the Nobel Prize in 1979. CT scans use computer-processed combinations of many X-ray images taken from different angles to produce cross-sectional (tomographic) images, which are 3D in nature. CT scans can be done quickly, do not cause the patient pain and are extremely accurate.

MRIs

MRIs produce 3D images of soft tissues like organs and muscles, which wouldn’t appear on X-rays. MRI technology uses powerful magnetic fields, radio frequency pulses and a computer to create detailed pictures of the inside of your body. MRIs are especially useful for looking at soft tissues and the nervous system, including the brain and spine.

MRIs versus CT scans

How will I know which one I need? Your doctor will always advise you, taking into account your symptoms and current health situation. MRIs are a bit noisy, take more time and can be difficult for people who feel claustrophobic, as you’re in a confined space within the machine and have to lie completely still. CT scans are often used in emergency situations, whereas MRIs are reserved for non-emergencies, where more time can be taken to get a detailed look inside the body.
Some medical aids will cover MRI and CT scans from the risk benefit and not from your day-to-day benefits on certain options, so it’s worth asking your medical aid what they will cover.
Hopefully this gives you some helpful information about these two medical procedures, along with all the benefits they provide. If you have a concern about any physical problem you have, you should make an appointment to see your GP and he or she can then advise on the appropriate next steps.

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